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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

36                              THE GAY GENIUS

that the sage emperor was willing to use a bad man and give him
a chance to prove his talent. The judges read the story, but dared not
question it, because it amounted to their admitting not having read
it somewhere in one of the obscure ancient texts. So Su Tungpo was
passed. After the examinations one day Mei Yaochen, one of the
judges, said to him:

"By the way, where does that story occur about Emperor Yao and
the minister of justice? I can't quite recall where I read it."

"I invented it," the young scholar confessed.                      

"You did!" said the old judge.

"Well, that was what the sage emperor would have done, wasn't
it?" replied Su Tungpo.

To pass an examination under a certain examiner was to place a
scholar under heavy obligation to him for recognition of his talent,
and establish a permanent relation between the two as "master" and
"disciple" (menshid). The candidates went up to pay their respects
to their master and the chief judges and wrote them letters of grati-
tude. Ouyang Shiu was the authority on literature. He could make or
unmake a scholar by a word of praise or blame. A writer of the time
said that the scholars did not know the fear of punishment or the
joy of promotions, nor did they value the gift of life or fear the doom
of death, but they did fear the opinion of Ouyang Shiu. Imagine,
therefore, the effect on the young poet when Ouyang Shiu said to one
of his colleagues: "On reading Su Tungpo's letter, somehow I per-
spired all over with joy. My old person must give place to this young
man and let him rise to the top" When such a statement was made
by Ouyang Shiu, the whole capital heard about it. Ouyang Shiu was
also reported to have said to his own sons: "Mark my word, thirty
years from now nobody will talk about me." This prediction came
true, for in the first decade after Su Tungpo's death, nobody was talk-
ing about Ouyang Shiu, but everybody was talking about Su Tungpo
and reading him in secret, when his works were banned.

Just as he was about to begin his official career, Tungpo's mother
died. It was such an important event according to Confucian custom
that even a premier had immediately to retire and go into a twenty-
seven-months' period of mourning before he could return to office.
Tungpo's eldest sister had died several years earlier, and thus when all
the men of the family went away to'the examinations, the mother was
left alone with the daughters-in-law. She died without hearing the good
news, from the capital. Hurriedly the father and brothers set out for
liome, to find the mother gone and the house in very bad condition,
with the fences broken down and the roof leaking, "like the home of
a refugee".                                                          . i             ,